Occupants of private flats in Tower Hamlets, whose homes are clad in the same hazardous material as Grenfell Tower, are continuing to face bills running into thousands of pounds to pay for its removal because property developers are refusing to cover the cost.
The borough is estimated to have more than 40 privately owned blocks needing the work – one of the highest proportions in the country.
Many residents in these high-rise buildings are having to foot the bill for its removal, despite the government claiming developers have a “moral responsibility” to pay for the work themselves.
Mark Baigent, interim director of housing and regeneration in Tower Hamlets told councillors earlier this month that the private sector is now the “biggest area of concern”, following the council’s fire safety scrutiny review.
A recent report shows that Tower Hamlets has over 40 private sector blocks, measuring over 18 meters, which all have the same unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) blamed for the rapid spread of the Grenfell Tower fire last year. The report says there are currently 289 private sector buildings in the UK that fail to meet Building Regulations guidance because they are still clad in the highly flammable material.
With 14 per cent of the affected buildings in the borough, Baigent said that Tower Hamlets “probably has the highest number of [affected] buildings…across the country.”
As reported in the Evening Standard last week, more than 500 people living in New Providence Wharf in Poplar have been told they may have to pay an average of more than £4,000 each to remove the panels.
This comes after freeholder Landor Residential, part of the Ballymore group, refused to pay for the removal of the ACM cladding from the original tower, built in 2005.
In a letter to Jim Fitzpatrick, the Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse, David Pearson, Ballymore’s finance director confirmed it was “the freeholder’s intention to charge the leaseholders the cost of the replacement of the ACM panels.”
At a committee meeting earlier this month, Baigent expressed concern that the costs of replacing the panels “could result in people… leaving their homes if they can’t afford to pay and then having to forfeit on their mortgages or leases.”
However, while Tower Hamlets claims to be doing what they can to persuade developers like Ballymore to “take their moral responsibility seriously”, Baigent admitted that “there isn’t a legal basis to enforce that”.
Baigent also conceded that the process “could take several years” and “the industry doesn’t have the capacity to do it all at once”.
Industry experts have estimated that the costs of replacing ACM cladding in the private sector could be as high as £12bn.
The private sector continues to be the slowest to replace the flammable material. Out of the 289 private sector buildings affected across the UK, only 19 have finished replacing panels, while remediation plans are ‘unclear’ for 102 buildings.
A Ballymore spokesperson said: “We continue to work with owners and other stakeholders to ensure a solution is found.”